Column: What We Choose to Celebrate

By Icy Frantz

Last week, we celebrated a true American hero. We remembered his service and loyalty to our country and to his family and friends. We heard wonderful stories about leadership and grace and love and grit. Many of us sat glued to our televisions listening to the tributes, some funny, some sad, but all inspiring. For the day, party affiliation seemed to mean nothing, and we as a nation came together, side by side, to consider a man, his achievements and the impact he made on our lives and on our world. It felt good to celebrate him and speak of his goodness and value.

Fast forward, one week. I am scrolling through Facebook posts and commenting on a few. After commenting on one, “Way to go Greenwich High School on winning the class LL football state championship!” I came across a post that stopped me. In essence, it was a celebration, at least for the author, but it expressed a very partisan opinion about an investigation and a satisfaction about the possibility of another person being brought into the investigation. Whoot Whoot!! 

And, it gave me pause because it felt so oddly different from the celebration we had just experienced last week. It felt so negative and divisive. It would be like scrolling back to the football championship post and commenting

“New Canaan, you stink!” rather than, “Well played, Greenwich!”

It got me thinking. What we choose to celebrate can create a mood and shape a nation, and if we spend more time celebrating the good in each of us, maybe we would have an easier time coming together to solve the real problems that exist.

Our almost 13-year-old daughter would say that I spend a lot of time looking for the good. It’s true, I spend a lot of time seeking the silver lining in situations. It goes something like this:

Almost 13-year-old, “My feet are too big.’

Annoying mother, “Just think, you will always be able to find the shoes you want because they won’t be sold out.”

Almost 13-year-old, “I can’t believe I have to go to church.”

Annoying mother, “It will be great to have a few minutes of peace and quiet!”

Or, almost 13-year-old, “I wish I had siblings closer to my age.”

Annoying mother, “Soon your much older siblings will be working in the city and you will be excited to have an apartment where you can visit,”

You get the picture! I am sure I am supposed to recognize and acknowledge her feelings, but it somehow feels more natural to point her towards a more positive way of looking at life. We can choose what we celebrate: Feet. Sunday church. Being alone with two annoying parents.

That same almost 13-year-old made me very proud the other day. She returned home from a night of school spirit and cheering for the varsity hockey teams. “How was it? “annoying Mom asked.

“It was great!! And so exciting and my good friend got a goal and that was amazing!! It was the best part of the night.”

I loved that she could be so happy for a friend, so happy that it made her night. And yet, it is sometimes difficult to celebrate others’ success, especially when we ourselves have not been so fortunate. But I have come to that age in life, when I recognize that we all win sometimes and we all lose sometimes, we make teams sometimes and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we get the A and sometimes we don’t. But, to put energy into wishing bad on others, or celebrating another’s misfortune is simply wasted energy and brings us all down.

We see so much of that in our world. Gotcha – a steamy affair, an off-putting comment, a leaked secret. We wait for it and hunt it down and we spend way too much time seeking it.

Growing up, I had a Peanuts cartoon on my wall and in it, Snoopy is on a tennis court, returning serve. Above his head in a thought bubble are the words: “Please double fault, please double fault.” And then, in the final box after his opponent’s apparent double fault, Snoopy says, “Oh, that was too bad!” Truth be told, I have felt like Snoopy many times, but, while others’ mistakes and failures may have given me a few extra points in the short term, they have never determined long-term success.

I wonder if we spent more time looking for and celebrating the good, the good in our friends and in our rivals, we just might find ourselves in a more civil world.

Because we are one, one nation. And we own a piece of each of our failures and, likewise, we own a part of each of our successes. Doesn’t it feel better to recognize success, even if it isn’t our own?

We were all touched by the letter President Bush wrote to Bill Clinton before he left the White House. All these years later, even Bill Clinton has remembered fondly the gesture of good will. It was thoughtful, but it also spoke to Bush’s ability to put aside any hard feelings. He had just been beaten by Clinton. The two had different ideas about how to run the country, but those differences didn’t lead to moral judgment. I think they got that right. And because of this, post office, Clinton and Bush worked together effectively at times of real crisis.

Imagine a world in which we truly wish the best for our adversaries with no holding back, no “I hope they fail” hidden within. Imagine a world where the majority of the headlines are positive. Greenwich wins. New Canaan tried their hardest. The investigation is over. Big feet rule. What we choose to celebrate, what we choose to focus on and headline not only determines the tone of our country, but it also says quite a bit about us personally.

I think often about a book I read by Robert Fulgham,  All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In it are a lot of small truths learned in kindergarten that most of us have carried through life.

“Think what a better world it would be if we all-the whole world-had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are-when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

I don’t know about you, but I loved the feeling of coming together to celebrate a great man. I loved hearing that Michelle Obama called George W her partner in crime. It felt good to get along. It felt good to share a common interest and to honor a former president. Maybe this is something for which we can all strive. At least that’s what this annoying mother is hoping, a new year of coming together, wishing each other well, celebrating each other’s successes and mourning each other’s losses and standing as one, one nation under God.